A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Case Study: Women in Ministry

In my last few posts, I’ve been seeking to sketch out what I’m calling a ‘prophetic-redemptive’ approach to interpreting the Christian Scriptures. Essentially, it’s an attempt to acknowledge the fact that, in some cases, there may be attitudes or perspectives recorded in the biblical texts that are less than ideal (and this is simply because humans are involved in the process of writing them). At the same time, it is my firm belief that the life-giving Spirit of God is also very much involved in this process, and so our task (as I see it) is to look for the prophetic Spirit at work in the texts themselves, sometimes overturning these less-than-ideal perspectives and always leading God’s people into fulness of life.

In my first post I looked at Isaiah 56, noting how this extraordinary text overturned what had previously been understood as the Law of God. Those who had been explicitly excluded from God’s Temple (and therefore God’s very presence) were now fully embraced as members of the family of God.

In my second post I focused on the book of Acts, noting how the Spirit of God seemed to be at work in pushing out the boundaries of God’s people to the surprise of many of the early Jewish-Christians. God was now drawing in Samaritans and even Gentiles — and the only ‘badge of membership’ was faith in Jesus (thus overturning the traditional identity markers of the Jewish people). We saw also how the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 became a kind of formative moment for working out what God was up to in their midst.

In this post, I’d like to draw out some of the implications of this approach with a kind of ‘case study’ focused on the issue of women in Christian ministry.

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A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Acts 15

In my last post, I began to outline what I’ve called a ‘prophetic-redemptive’ strategy for reading the Bible, focusing on an extraordinary passage in Isaiah 56.

Building on the work of various scholars, I began with the notion that, due to the contextual, ‘human’ input into the production of our sacred, divinely-inspired texts, there are some ideas recorded in the scriptures that are, shall we say, less-than-ideal. Without wanting (in any way) to write-off the scriptures completely, I instead sought to let the text deconstruct itself and to allow the prophetic voice within the text to begin to reconstruct a redemptive way forward.

In Isaiah 56, the prophet dramatically overturns the very Law, calling for the full inclusion of those who had formerly been explicitly excluded from God’s people. This prophetic over-ruling offered a liberating alternative to the so-called reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which sought rather to build up taller and wider physical and social walls of partition between the ‘elect’ and ‘everyone else.’

By this, I would suggest, we can hold together both the obvious ‘humanity’ and contextuality of our sacred scriptures, as well as seeking nevertheless to hear the divine voice of redemption and full human dignity through these same texts.

What I aim to do in this post, then, is to see if I can find this same prophetic voice of liberation/redemption at work in the stories of Jesus and the early Christians. I’ll do this specifically by opening up some passages from the book of Acts, in order to see how the first Christians seem to have understood the words and actions of Jesus, and how this shaped their understanding of who could be full members of the community of God centred around Jesus as Messiah.

Continue reading A Prophetic-Redemptive Hermeneutic – Acts 15